We first heard about YouTube Go last year, when Google announced the offline-first YouTube app, and then a few months later YouTube Go entered Beta. It’s designed to work in areas with low connectivity or no network – there is a lot of focus on downloading videos instead of streaming, and it even shows you the size of video files before you even play something, so you know just how much data you’re going to use at any point.
At Google I/O 2017 last week, with the focus on the new Android Go project, the company talked about YouTube Go again, and Sameer Samat, VP of Product management for Android and Google Play, highlighted to Gadgets 360 the smaller APK size, and data optimisation features in YouTube Go.
We tried out YouTube Go for a while to see what the experience was like, and it looks and feels exactly like what it is – a stripped down version of YouTube. There are only two tabs – Home and Downloads – there’s none of the extras such as Subscriptions, Uploads, Purchases, or Playlists.
YouTube Go has just a single scrolling list of videos, thumbs one after another based on what’s popular, and nothing more. Tap on any video, and you’ll see a series of thumbnails, showing you a sort of preview of the video, along with details on how much storage is available on your phone at that moment. You have the option of selecting either basic quality or standard quality, and in both cases, you can see the amount of space that the file will occupy on your device, which is also how much of your data will be confused when downloading.
Once you’ve selected the size, you have two options – play, or download. It doesn’t default to either option – you have to manually choose each time. If you choose to play a file, it starts streaming right away at the chosen quality, and you can see more videos below.
In the regular YouTube app, you have the option of minimising a video while it’s playing, and browsing for the next one. In the case of YouTube Go, you have no such luxury. You do one thing at a time, or not at all.
That’s almost all there is to YouTube Go, save for one last feature. As we already mentioned, you can choose to download a video instead of playing it. If you do this, you can play it again any time you want, obviously, but you also have the option to share that with another YouTube Go user. The devices seem to perform the initial connection process using Bluetooth, and it’s easy to get started.
When you open the downloads tab inside YouTube Go, you can tap on either send or receive. To transfer a file, the person with the file has to tap Send. This makes it start looking for the receiver. Then, the person who wants the file taps Receive. Once that’s done, the actual file transfer seems to happen over a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection between the two devices, which means it’s fast, and doesn’t use your Internet data.
The file has to be verified on the Internet before it can be watched on the phone that received it – after the verification, downloaded files can be watched anytime you like, as long as you connect to the Internet at least once a month.
In YouTube Go, everything is very simple, and it works supremely quickly. There are no wasted animations or complicated UI elements to slow things down. The message is clear – this app trims all the fat that it can find, and then some more, to provide the smoothest experience possible.
This shows in the file sizes of downloaded videos as well. A four minute video takes up 2MB at the basic quality setting. A 21 minute clip took up just 12.1MB.
At standard quality on the other hand, a 1 minute clip took up 4.8MB. The same clip is 558Kb on basic quality. The difference in file sizes is tremendous, but the difference in quality is also pretty palpable. YouTube doesn’t reveal the resolution that it’s using for basic and standard quality videos, but standard quality looked pretty good on the 5-inch screen of a Redmi 3S Prime.
Rewatching the same clip on the full YouTube app, our best guess is that standard quality is 360p, while basic quality is 144p, though this is just a guess made by looking at the video under the various different settings and trying to guess what looks most like a match.
Depending on how must storage you have on your phone, and how much data you want to use for the download, you’ll be able to choose what size you prefer; and as mentioned above, since the YouTube Go app does not default to any preference, you get to make an informed choice for every single video.
That might sound a little tedious, but there’s a distinct difference in the quality. Depending on what video you’re downloading, that’s something you’ll want to consider, particularly if you’re toting an entry-level device, as most of those have improved on most fronts, but storage remains pretty limited.
All in all, the YouTube Go app is a pretty good option for people who want to use less data, and don’t want the app to take up as much of a footprint on their devices. That being said, we do wish that you could see your subscriptions. Instead of playlists, the user of such an app might prefer to download the videos instead, but subscriptions would make it easier to find content you like.
With the YouTube Go app, discovery remains an issue – you can either browse through the videos which may (or more likely may not) match your interests, or rely on search entirely. Subscriptions on the YouTube app right now help you to find the content you like, and that would definitely be appreciated with YouTube Go as well.